, Volume 191, Issue 12, pp 2849–2866 | Cite as

On the very concept of free will

  • Joshua May


Determinism seems to rule out a robust sense of options but also prevent our choices from being a matter of luck. In this way, free will seems to require both the truth and falsity of determinism. If the concept of free will is coherent, something must have gone wrong. I offer a diagnosis on which this puzzle is due at least in part to a tension already present in the very idea of free will. I provide various lines of support for this hypothesis, including some experimental data gathered by probing the judgments of non-specialists.


Freedom Moral responsibility Experimental philosophy  Incompatibilism Compatibilism Cluster concept Prototype 



I owe a significant debt to John Maier who inspired me to test the main hypothesis in this paper, the basics of which we both independently developed. For valuable comments on or discussions about this paper, I thank: Lloyd Humberstone, Josh Knobe, Colin Marshall, Alfred Mele, Jonathan Phillips, Patrick Todd, Jason Turner, and the referees for this journal, one of whom kindly identified himself as Adam Feltz. Versions of the paper were presented at the University at Buffalo, Melbourne University, Deakin University, and CSU Wagga Wagga. Many thanks to the attendees for their feedback, especially Wylie Breckenridge, Daniel Cohen, Neil Levy, Edouard Machery, David Ripley, and Laura Schroeter. Work on this paper was supported by Monash University and some of the ideas were developed while participating in a summer seminar for the Big Questions in Free Will project at Florida State University, which was supported by the John Templeton Foundation. The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not reflect those of either funding body


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA

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